How do you tell a 3 year old their baby brother is dead?
I had sent out a group text at around 8am in the morning telling our friends that our baby had died, I thought it was easier than receiving the many texts/phone calls that you get when your due date is looming from well-wishers asking if labour had started yet, I really had no idea what to say in my text, I wanted to say something profound to let people know that Liam had meant the world to us, that he was beautiful, that I loved him to the stars and back, but my mind was blank, and the only thing that I had been able to write was “Liam Edward born 244am, sadly has gone to be with the angels, he was perfect in every way xx” The texts from our friends came rolling in all day, each person was as shocked and devastated as the next, and of course there was nothing that anyone could say to make it any better so they all said that we were in their thoughts and prayers and let us know that they were there for us should we need anything. Before Alethea came I trawled the internet googling everything I could think about on baby death etc. nothing helped, most of what I read made me feel worse, I can’t remember what I was reading, but I know that I had that sick churning feeling in my stomach while I was reading it.
Just after lunch Jane brings a bag into the room titled ‘Bears of Hope Pregnancy & Infant Loss Support’ inside is a white teddy with a tag around its neck, and handwritten on the tag is the name Zac Fenech 23/10/2009 and I read the little typed card and it says ‘This bear of hope comes to you from one mother to another to offer you and your family support and to let you know you are not alone. I understand the heartbreak you are faced with going home with empty arms and have donated this bear to you in honour of my own baby. I hope that in time you will find comfort and healing for your broken heart. “A life so brief, a child so small, you had the power to touch us all”’ nearly 3 years previous a family had experienced the pain that we were now going through, my heart went out to that family, to little Zac who had to stay in the hospital and not come home. Wow, empty arms, that is what the card had said, another realisation comes to me that we too will have empty arms leaving the hospital, I then realise that I too will have to leave my little boy in hospital, leave him by himself, I am going home without my baby, it’s a hard realisation because at this stage I was living breath by breath, minute by minute not by hours or days it was hard enough processing that my baby was dead let alone realising what that would mean for us in the next couple of days. The bag also contained pamphlets to read, but by now my head was spinning and I didn’t feel like reading them. Ryan and I realise that our little girl would be here to see us soon, and we remember that we had given her 2 jobs to do for the new baby, one of those jobs was to give the baby a teddy, and the other job was to choose a dummy for the baby, (Alethea and I had spent hours in Coles looking at all the dummies, she took this job very seriously and each shopping trip she stopped at the dummies looking at girl ones and boy ones, deciding which one she was going to choose) I had forgotten that I had put a dummy in my hospital bag but we looked at this bear and both agreed that Alethea would be excited to give it to Liam.
2pm arrives and the promise that the psychologist would come and see us isn’t fulfilled, and from my bed I can hear a high pitched little girls voice, all excited coming bounding towards us. I try to sit up a little straighter, tidy my hair and wipe my eyes, (however nothing that I did would prepare Alethea to see me because when I look back at pictures of myself I am totally unrecognisable and I was probably a little frightening to look at, I was ghostly white, and even though I have freckles they are usually not too noticeable, however in hospital due to how white I was my freckles stood out immensely, on top of that my eyes were both extremely puffy and black, I looked horrible). Alethea comes running in ‘Hi Mummy, Hi Daddy’ she sees me in the hospital bed in a hospital gown and she knows straight away that I have had the baby, she looks immediately for the cot and looks through the clear sides into Liam, jumping up and down on the spot, she was so excited and says ‘I knew you were having the baby mummy, is it a girl baby or a boy baby?’ I have tears filling my eyes but I try not to break down, and I say ‘Come here Alethea, mummy has something very important that I need to tell you’ she comes over to me and I get Ryan to pick her up and sit her on my bed, I stroke her hair and I speak slowly and clearly to her ‘Sometimes when babies come out of their mummys tummy they don’t wake up, and that is what has happened to our baby, he hasn’t woken up and he has died. When babies don’t wake up, people are not allowed to take them home from hospital, and so we are not allowed to take our baby home from the hospital, he has to stay here, so mummy and daddy are really sad because we really wanted to take our baby home with us. It is nothing that we did wrong, mummy hasn’t done anything wrong, daddy hasn’t done anything wrong and you haven’t done anything wrong, it has just happened and we are really sad that he has died and won’t be able to come home with us do you understand?’ by this time I am wiping my eyes because I can’t help but cry, ‘Why we have to leave him here mummy?’ asks Alethea, and I tell her again that our baby has died, that he will never wake up and that we are not allowed to take him home. I tell her that unfortunately this is the first and last time that she will be allowed to see her baby. I ask Alethea if she would like to have a hold of the baby and she says yes, she asks again if it is a girl baby or a boy baby and I tell her that it is a boy baby, she has a baby brother and his name is Liam. She sits down on the chair next to me and eagerly holds her arms out, she so proudly holds her brother, apparently unaware that he is dead, and asks to have her photo taken, Ryan takes some pictures of Alethea and she has the biggest, proudest smile on her face that I have ever seen (These are actually the hardest photos for me to look at because I can see all the happiness in her face, all the excitement from finally being a ‘big sister’ and it breaks my heart) ‘He’s so beautiful mummy’ she says and I try my hardest to smile at her and agree with her. I tell her again ‘Alethea, unfortunately this is the last time that you will get to see your baby brother, see he is sleeping, and he won’t wake up, so we are not allowed to take him home.’ It was important for Alethea to see her baby brother, she had experienced the pregnancy as much as I had, she had been patiently waiting for this baby to come, and to not let her see the baby did not seem right. Alethea gestures that she has had enough of holding Liam and Ryan takes him off her and puts him back in the cot, she asked to have my phone so that she might take some photos, so she takes photos of me, Ryan and Liam through the clear side walls of the cot, ‘say cheese mummy’ we try to smile and be happy while she is taking photos. We then ask Alethea if she would like to give a teddy to baby Liam and she eagerly says yes, we give her the white teddy and she places it in his cot next to him, she then spent the next 5 minutes arranging and rearranging the best spot for the teddy so that baby Liam could “see” the bear. Alethea can sense that something is not quite right, she sees how upset Ryan and I are(even though we are not crying and trying to smile and be “normal”), she comes up on my bed and cuddles into me as much as she can trying to feel safe, and I cuddle her and realise that I will never be able to feel Liam cuddle me like this, never feel his warmth on me, the rise and fall of his chest as I can feel Alethea.
Mum, dad and Alethea stay for around half an hour and then mum tells her that it is time to go to their house, and Alethea is all excited telling me that she is going to have a sleep over at Grandma’s house. Ryan tells Alethea to say goodbye to baby Liam, and that next time she comes to see us he won’t be here and she calls out as a 3 year old would ‘bye, bye Liam’ and then she is gone. I burst into tears and Ryan comforts me, it’s too hard a concept for a 3 year old to grasp and I worry whether letting her see Liam was the right thing to do, I think of the excitement she had when she saw him, the proud smile she had on her face when she held him and the disappointment in her eyes when she couldn’t work out why we couldn’t bring him home and I marvel at the way she can jump around and be happy not really grasping what has happened. Alone again Ryan and I have another nurse of Liam, it’s a hard concept to grasp that your baby is dead, especially when he looks as if he is only sleeping, by now it is 3pm and he is cold to touch, he still looks perfect, but he is cold. Again that question comes to me ‘who has a dead baby, who does this?’ I don’t know why I keep asking this question but I can’t help it. My mind then starts to ask lots of questions like…did I do the right thing letting him go, if I didn’t fight for him who would have? Maybe I should have pushed harder for them to transfer Liam, maybe he would have been that miracle baby that survived, maybe I shouldn’t have cared what sort of life he would have had, any life was better than being dead, maybe he would have lived a year in hospital and I could have cuddled him more, even if he didn’t open his eyes or communicate in any way, he would have been able to feel the love in my touch, my kisses, but I didn’t fight enough for him, I had let him go and I was a horrible mum.
The next hour or so Ryan and I cuddle, tell each other how much we love each other, I remember looking at him saying ‘we can do this, we can do this’ I again trawl the internet looking for my answer to why my baby died but nothing helps. I start to read some of the pamphlets in the Bears of hope bag, but just can’t bring myself to do it. I press my PCA (button of escape) not because of the pain, just so I don’t have to feel as much as what I was feeling.
At 5pm 4 people walk through the door together, my brother and his wife and Ryan’s sister and her husband, in my mind I kept looking at the clock wondering how they got out of work that early to get to the hospital we were at, which was nowhere near where they either lived or worked and I was thinking of how nice it was that they had left work early to see us, in hindsight of course I would have done the same thing, but at the time it seemed a huge effort in my mind for them to come, when all we had to offer or show was a ‘dead baby’. They all had a nurse of Liam, and all of them tried extremely hard not to cry or show any distress, at one stage my brother came up and kissed me on the cheek and said ‘how are you going sweetheart’ and I had no response, isn’t a big brother meant to protect his little sister, isn’t he there to make sure bad things didn’t happen, all I could say was ‘my baby is dead’ I remember pressing my button of escape many times while they were there, I didn’t want to feel the sadness that was overcoming me, I wanted the nothingness again and sure enough my eyes became heavier and things became a lot less raw. I don’t remember too much of their visit as I had pressed my button so many times, but I do remember them having a laugh at how drugged I was and I am pretty sure I had a slight smile on my face for the first time that day.
6pm comes and the psychologist who was meant to come before Alethea came finally turns up. He has a computer with him and sits down on my right hand side, he asks if I can move my legs over so that he can put his computer on the bed, (I struggle because I have not yet moved a muscle, for 2 reasons, firstly I was in pain, the operation had only been earlier that day and secondly because I was in my own world of numbness I hadn’t bothered to move). So I move my legs to the left, but it wasn’t far enough for him so he asks me to move again. He didn’t once look into the cot to see Liam or comment on how beautiful he was he was just straight to business. ‘So your baby died today, and you wanted to see me?’ and I relay that yes we wanted to get an idea off him what to say to our daughter but we had requested he come before she came and that was 4 hours ago so we had told her in our own way and I relayed what we had said. ‘That’s not the way we would normally tell a 3 year old’ he says, so I ask him why and what should we have done ‘Well the way you have told her with the baby not waking up, will make her scared of going to sleep at night because she will fear that she won’t wake up, it could impact her now or maybe later’ excellent, so not only have I got a dead baby, but now I have messed up Alethea as well, way to make me feel better about myself! He continues ‘what you should have said is can you breath? And get her to breath, and then say can you raise your arm above your head? And then get her to do that, and then tell her that Liam is unable to do those things and that is how we know he is dead’ well thank you for that insight 4 hours after my daughter had left us! He then asks me how many siblings I have and what my relationship is like with them, then he asks about my relationship with my parents, and asks if my mum hugged me as a child and who I went to as a child for comfort etc. Ryan says to our profound psychologist that we require some tools or insight into how to handle the coming days and what else we can do or say to our daughter to make her feel safe and secure, and the only response that we get from him is that ‘this is going to be like a rollercoaster ride, you will have your ups and your downs, to start with the downs will be a lot more than the ups but as time goes on that will change around’ I press my button of escape because I don’t want him here any longer, he has done nothing to help and even though I had a very happy childhood, from his questioning I felt like a basket case. It was clear that this psychologist was not here to help us get through the next 24hours he was here to claim a client which he could bill for a long time coming. (Please don’t get me wrong, I believe psychotherapy is a valuable tool and have since found a lovely helpful psychologist but this man was useless to us in our time of need). He gives us a card and tells us to book in an appointment with him once we are out of hospital, that he specialises in this area and can be of great value to us……not likely!!
Ryan and I had more cuddles with Liam, Ryan’s mum and dad return with some clothes for Ryan and a present that we had gotten Alethea for when the baby arrived for us to give her the next day. Mum has a nurse of Liam and this time dad does too, he rocks him gently back and forth, and then hands him back too mum. Mum talks to Liam and again tells him how beautiful he is, and then they leave again. Ryan tells me that he will stay with me in hospital, he doesn’t want to leave me, so makes up a tiny chair bed to sleep in and we both rest our heads down, we watch some TV, not taking in anything, but it kills time. 11pm comes and we decide to try for sleep, and in my mind I think of all the other mums who will be up most of the night feeding their babies and not getting any sleep and I think well at least I don’t have to do that, it is a callous thing to think, but it is the only thing in my mind that I can grasp onto to make myself feel a tiny bit better that their babies were alive and mine was dead, my baby would just lie in his cot all night, not cry, not wet, not require my every attention, he wouldn’t move, he was dead………silence as a lot of people say is golden, trust me it is not……silence is horrible.
- Posted in: The First Weeks
I don’t think you quite realise Amanda, that by writing down your journey and your innermost thoughts is almost therapy in itself and if it helps you and others then I will be supporting you by sharing. Nobody can ever imagine the enormity of what you, Ryan and Alethea have been through.
I agree Karyn, it has been very therapeutic writing down our journey, it will never bring him back, but it has helped us process what happened to us a little better.
Love to you
Hi, I started reading your blog after Heartfelt put a link to it via Facebook. My husband and I experienced the loss of our firstborn, who was stillborn at 41 weeks, nearly 7 years ago, so I can relate to your story very closely. What has prompted me to respond is that I am so saddened by the lack of respect and empathy that the psychologist seemed to convey to you in such a raw moment of grief and loss. On the other hand, it is good to hear that you have found a more caring and suitable psychologist to help you both with your journey of healing. Sadly, we experienced a rather callous approach from the midwife on duty who, after not being able to find our daughter’s heartbeat while they were trying to induce her, needed to call in the Staff Specialist to confirm that Charlotte had died, but while we were waiting for him to arrive, I had asked her to organise a social worker in preparation for us being told (officially) that Charlotte would be a stillborn, to which she replied ‘what would you want to do that for? They can be really grumpy if you wake them up and call them in’ (it was 11pm on a Monday night). I had thought her inappropriate behaviour may have been just peculiar to her personality, but it appears that the requested psychologist had also acted in a demeaning way. I wish you and your family inner peace through the journey that you are now on, with the hope that you remember to be kind to yourselves. As you said, you never know what you are capable of, until you are put in a situation that has to be dealt with. We have hooked up with Sids and Kids, and find them to be absolutely fantastic in helping us, particularly with how to deal with questions from our nearly 5 yr old son. We have always been upfront and honest with him – it leads to some tricky questions, but we always respond with the truth. All the best. Linda
I am not sure how you coped losing your firstborn, I feel very lucky that I have Alethea as a distraction, I would be an even bigger mess if she wasn’t here.
It is funny how in our time at hospital nearly everyone that we came in contact with was lovely, the nurses, Vanessa from smallprint, Jen from twinkle toes, Our photographer from heartfelt, etc. yet unfortunately there were a couple of people who just didn’t seem to have the right personality to help us in our time of need, and they were the 2 people that I probably expected the most of. I hope I can follow your lead and always respond to Alethea with the truth, I think she deserves it, as long as she can handle it
Hi Amanda, we had some lovely people at the hospital as well, and as much as it was a harrowing and numbing time, those special people have helped us take positive steps on this journey. I generally try not to make reference to the negative side of it unless I think that by imparting that knowledge, it will help someone else by letting them know they’re not alone. Losing a child, no matter what their birth order, is an ordeal, and something that no-one should go through (but we do). I must admit that losing Charlotte has made me be very respectful and grateful for our son – something that otherwise I would have just taken for granted. I make sure that I spend quality time with him, and listen to him, rather than just fob him off because I’m too busy. As for telling Alethea the truth – you will be surprised at what they can handle – just keep it simple and don’t over-complicate the explanations. You will continue to honour Liam’s existence by being honest with Alethea. The questions will be hard, and sometimes really frequent, but you just have to answer each question each time as if you had never heard it before – it can take quite a number of gentle re-tellings for kids to get the enormity of what’s happened. Sids and Kids has a lot of resources on how to deal with siblings who are the survivors of angel babies – even though Liam was not a stillborn, I’m sure that Sids and Kids would be able to offer you some guidance and access to drop-in groups, as their area of concern is with families who have lost children (I am assuming til the age of 12, as their website mentions assisting families with death of a child at birth, infancy or childhood) – Liam definitely fits into that category. Linda xx
I found your blog through Heartfelt and have been reading every post w tears streaming down. I cannot even fathom what you have gone through – especially telling your daughter. I want to shake that pyschologist, what a failing and cruelty. Liam is the most beautiful little boy, he truly looks like an angel, so chubby and precious and sweet. I am so sorry your time with him was so short, I know he will never ever ever be forgotten. Praying for you as you endure the time of grief ahead, I’m just so sorry xx
Yes looking back I too want to give that psychologist a bit of a shake and let him know how bad he made us feel, we are lucky to have found a wonderful one since who has given us helpful advice and insight as to what we are/will be going through. Liam’s cheeks were just as chubby as his sisters when she was born, and she still has them! Thanks for your prayers
It is really hard to know what to say after reading your posts…what you have been through is something that no mother should ever have to exprience…..your little boy was just so beautiful, a little angel….I have promised myself that I will take the time from now on to kiss and cuddle my children often and take nothing for granted…..I am just so sorry for you, your husband and your little baby girl….I will think of little liam tomorrow when I kiss my children good morning xxx
It is lovely to hear from people who haven’t experienced a loss like this or know of anyone who has, who now promise to cherish every moment with their children and cuddle and kiss them more…I do the same to Alethea! Thanks for your beautiful words
My kids are teens now, but I’m reading your story and your writing is so eloquent that I can feel all of your pain. Thank you for sharing your story!!!!